Following the death of a member of a pension scheme, the pension scheme trustee or their administrator will usually have discretion over who should receive the death benefits.

Expression of wish forms

An expression of wish form (or "nomination" form) should be completed to nominate beneficiaries so that on death the scheme trustees or their administrator can be guided in deciding who death benefits should be paid to.

The pension scheme rules may list the potential beneficiaries who qualify to benefit. These would include family (including dependants), trusts and charities and also anyone else nominated ("nominees") by the member.

Following death, the pension scheme trustee or administrator will make enquiries and seek information to assist them in exercising their discretion. Commonly, pension scheme administrators will implement the wishes in the expression of wish form.

The beneficiaries will usually have a choice of receiving a lump sum payment or a beneficiary drawdown pension ("flexi-access drawdown") from which they can draw an income. It should be noted that charities and trusts can only receive lump sums. Expressions of wishes can be extremely important particularly if the member wishes to benefit an individual who is not a dependant. In that case, it can be crucial to nominate the individual in the expression of wish form. This is because it is not possible to provide a beneficiary pension for someone who is not a dependant unless they have been nominated. If there was no expression of wish form, and there were no dependants, the scheme administrator may have the power to nominate a beneficiary to allow them to select a beneficiary pension.

By naming all beneficiaries which the member wishes to include as potential beneficiaries in the expression of wish form, the pension holder can ensure that all their intended beneficiaries could benefit from either a lump sum or beneficiary drawdown pension. If a person has not been nominated, the only option for them will be a lump sum.

Nominating a trust

It is open to a member to nominate a trust as the recipient of a lump sum death benefit. The member can set up their own trust with their chosen trustees and provide them with a separate letter of wishes. There are advantages and disadvantages of trusts which will be considered in a further article. However, they may be appropriate for those with more complicated family situations, including where there are children from previous relationships.  

Style expression of wish form

Most pension providers offer a proforma expression of wish form for completion. However, they will usually accept a letter from a member in place of or in addition to the expression of wish form.

Whatever form the expression of wish takes, it is important that the wishes clearly state the intended beneficiaries and the circumstances in which they should benefit so that the scheme administrators have clear guidance.

Reviewing expression of wish forms

Expression of wish forms should be reviewed so that they always reflect the scheme member's wishes as circumstances change over time.

The taxation of death benefits change following the member's 75th birthday and that may be an appropriate time to review the expression of wish form. The taxation of death benefits will be considered in a subsequent article.


This series of articles highlights the importance of reviewing pension death benefits. We recommend clients to take independent financial advice about their pensions, including pension death benefits. The first article in this series provides a general introduction to reviewing pension death benefits and the third article discusses bypass trusts,

For further information on any of the legal issues raised in this series, please get in touch.